One of those 13 teams to watch is probably not going to win the NCAA tournament. One of the 50 players to watch most likely won’t be the James Naismith winner. That doesn’t mean that these conferences don’t matter.
If you read this site regularly you probably already have some affinity for mid-major college basketball, considering that’s all we really cover. There are some other sites dedicated to the same mission. I’d recommend checking out Mid-Major Madness and The Mid-Majority. With 347 teams playing Division I basketball this season there will always be an eclectic mix of personalities, styles and competition. The place where you get to experience it the best is at the mid-major level.
The gyms are smaller (the average NEC arena seats just over 2,700 people). The teams more integrated on campus. The tradition more jumbled. There aren’t Top 100 recruits waiting to fill the spot when that superstar senior departs. It’s the reason why being successful at the mid-major level for a long time is rare. It’s why we celebrate programs like Butler, VCU, LIU Brooklyn, Princeton, Davidson and St. Mary’s. Schools that just seem to be competing for their respective league titles year after year.
This doesn’t mean that mid-major basketball is immune to the things that plague major conference basketball. You’ll still find suspensions and transfers. There are egos on the court and off of it. Nobody gets away from it — we’re still talking about dealing with 18-22 year olds.
If you’re not a fan of a mid-major team already, find one to root for. It could be one near your hometown. It could be one that plays a style you like or has an awesome star player. Kyle Whelliston once created Certificates of Investment. These pieces of digital paper meant that you were committing to following, understanding and rooting for a team during the season. I happened to be transplanted to Rogers Park, Chicago for that 2009-10 season. So I picked Loyola (Ill.).
I was there when the Ramblers lost by a point, in a packed gym to the Butler Bulldogs. Jim Whitesell’s crew would go on to finish the season 14-18, but Butler? They’d make it all the way to National Title game before falling to Duke by two measly points.
I keep following the Ramblers. (I follow too many college basketball teams.) When I’m back in Chicago I’ll hit up a game at the renovated Gentile Center. It’s a nice facility that too few people go to right now, because Loyola hasn’t won more than 20 games since 2006-07. When I think back on that night and the crowd stuffed into the bleachers. Chanting. Trying to will the Ramblers to a victory that would’ve meant the difference between 5-13 and 6-12 in league play. I remember what mid-major basketball is all about.
I hope, by taking a holistic view of the nation in this series you’ve realized that my experience at the Gentile Center that night a few years ago, isn’t an isolated event. It can happen in Morningside Heights in Manhattan or Orem, Utah. The opponent can be Butler, Harvard or NJIT. Where there are two Division I college basketball teams that want to compete, brilliant things can happen.
If I were you, I’d want to be watching.